What’s really happening in the police agencies regarding all the new laws


It’s absolutely fascinating what’s happening to policing in our community resulting from the new state laws, and what our local jurisdictions are doing in response to new ideas, new awareness, and a need to redesign our approach to public safety and community care.

We have a true opportunity to devise a better, more agile, more just public safety system that addresses crisis situations with a higher probability of success and lower chance that excessive force would be used.

There are a number of new state laws about the use of force, data collection, training, and accountability.  One of the new laws I find particularly interesting is Senate Bill 5066 that requires other officers to intervene if they see excessive use of force or they would be held accountable as well as an offending officer.   There is a tendency in many organizations: police forces, unions, corporations, fraternities, etc., for the members to prioritize protecting their colleagues over other considerations.  This law and the others are demanding significant changes in policing culture as well as the mechanics of policing to address the concerns of the public. 

With respect to House Bill 1310, a different new law, I read in numerous news sources that “Under 1310, officers can only respond to calls reporting crimes, not ones requesting wellness checks or other “community caretaking” calls.”   I was curious so I read that bill and didn’t see where it says that, wondered what I was missing.  The bill is all about the use of force, not what the police department can respond to. I then watched the video of the presentation Olympia’s police chief made last week and confess to still being confused.  A graphic from his presentation states that because of HB1310:

If there is not a crime, officers will not respond to the majority of “Community Caretaking” calls such as:
  • Suicidal threats
  • Overdoses
  • Psychiatric complications
  • Public Nuisance
  • Assisting Designated Crisis Responders

But that wasn’t what the bill said.   After watching the video discussion with Chief Jelcick it seems that the overall service intent is that there will still be some kind of response, just not by a uniformed officer. In Olympia, the Crisis Response Unit (CRU) or another service will be the first responder in these cases.Councilmember Gilman expressed his concerns about that, specifically intending to ensure that there will always be some response when a call comes in.   

I then spoke with Chief Jelcick, who was very helpful, and now have a more comprehensive understanding of the overall situation. It’s true, HB 1310 itself does not prevent the police from responding in these situations.  The Chief’s concern is that by responding to these calls the officers will be put in situations where they will have to use force that doesn’t meet the letter of this law.  Additionally, there are other legal considerations that have to do with inadvertently establishing a relationship with a victim where the police will be required to send an officer out in a subsequent situation when that is not an appropriate choice.  A primary driver of this policy is a state legal team advising police departments.

Regardless of the source for these changes and how they finally play out, they are significant moves to apply a more appropriate and measured response to any given situation. Ideally, that will facilitate a more peaceful, helpful, and appropriate action using personnel specifically trained for these situations.  We wind up with a broader range of crisis responses, often less threatening and thus less likely to escalate.   This is not equivalent to no response. How this will all shake out is clearly not completely resolved or understood.  These are big changes in the way our public safety system works that involves not only the police department but all social services, especially TCOMM 911 (911 dispatch), a completely independent non-profit agency with its own board.  As a major player, 911 is the first to be called and must decide who to send on a call.  They also wind up deciding whether a response is appropriate, and that is a crucial yet different responsibility.  As every jurisdiction has different resources, policies and staffing levels, giving 911 sufficiently detailed training and guidelines will be crucial to the success of the county-wide system.

I know that all the department heads are scrambling to understand and devise this new array of potential responses.  Plus not all jurisdictions have resources like Olympia’s CRU or Lacey’s new Mobile Outreach Team.  One possible scenario is that if the police department is reducing their calls, not responding to these “community caretaking” calls, then their budgets can be adjusted to transfer funds to those city departments who are now taking those calls.  We can fund the CRU to give 24-hour coverage, increase Friendly Faces for direct intervention, fund another Designated Mental Health Professional, or increase drug and alcohol services.

Who is deciding the policies?

Since not all of these changes are discretely mandated by legislation it begs the question: Who is actually deciding these policies? If the various police departments are selecting and deciding which laws to enforce and how, should those decisions be made by the local government elected leaders working in conjunction with the department? These same questions get raised with respect to any unsociable public behaviors.  All jurisdictions have Municipal Codes, their body of laws, and either we should enforce them or change them.  And that job lies squarely with the elected officials, not staff. 

How to do this will likely generate some conflicts and hard feelings.  We know that the police think that they did not have enough participation with the state legislature in drafting the new legislation and that the laws didn’t consider their views or experiences about what it takes to perform their duties.   But we need our elected officials to act decisively with respect to the public safety system.   The way it works in cities like Olympia is the council can’t direct staff nor make personnel decisions.  But the head of the staff is the city manager. He works for the council, and the city council can definitely direct the manager on matters of policy, not personnel.   And how we provide services, develop the municipal code, and fund our public safety system is policy. 

We need our elected officials to have a comprehensive knowledge of precisely what the requirements are and provide the necessary direction to insure a well-functioning, agile, safe and comprehensive approach to public safety.

Pat Cole  -  pcbiglife@gmail.com - is a former member of Olympia's city council. As a private citizen, he seeks to set a positive tone and lead informed discussion about local civic issues. 


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  • Tractor1

    Oh, the result of unintended consequences associated with knee jerk legislation.

    Tuesday, July 27, 2021 Report this

  • waltjorgensen


    Could you elaborate on your comment, "Oh, the result of unintended consequences associated with knee jerk legislation?" I can think I get your meaning, but I'd like to be sure.


    Wednesday, July 28, 2021 Report this

  • Olycoley

    I’m assuming you’re referring to HB1310 and the contention that the police can’t respond even though that’s not written into the law. As the author of the piece I want to clarify that I do think in this case the unintended consequences are good ones, although challenging and timely to implement. In these “community care” situations it is beneficial to all for a better trained, less threatening person to respond first and develop relationships with the victim or person in crisis. The challenge is in implementing these changes. Olympia and Lacey are better prepared than many jurisdictions because they have already taken steps to redesign their public safety system with intervention teams like Olumpia’s Crisis Response Unit and other services.

    Thursday, July 29, 2021 Report this

  • JW


    While these changes may seem good on paper the reality is a different story. I'm a firefighter in a major metro area and have direct street-level experience with how things work in the field.

    1) Sending mental health professionals/crisis response is a popular subject right now, but their realistic capabilities are severely limited. They can handle the most basic of mental health calls but anything involving real crisis/violence/hostile people is way out of their abilities

    2) Saying that someone will still be responding to every type of call is a nice sugar coat. In reality, with no police responding with us to suicidal/psych/overdose to provide us cover, we will not be responding and I can guarantee you the "mental health team" will not be going either. It's already written POLICY effective 7/25/21 that we are to not respond if we cannot reasonably guarantee our safety. So yes, there will be many people in crisis getting no more help than what they can receive over the phone from 911.

    3) Due to the above point, we now have to make the hard decisions on what are and are not comfortable with going in to. It's a roulette wheel on which time we're wrong and someone is hurt or killed. At the fire station we're seriously wondering how many EMS responders getting attacked/killed it will take to get this ridiculous law revoked.

    If you want to see some more unintended consequences, you should check out the Pierce County Sheriff's Office facebook post from 7/29/21 regarding the homicide at Kohl's in Puyallup where a man was freshly murdered in the parking lot and was seen running away from the scene by witnesses but the K9 could not do a track on the suspect because they could not establish probable cause. Prior to the new law it was sufficient to have reasonable suspicion and they would have tracked. Now...not so much.

    These laws may seem nice to those that are completely unaware of the realities of the streets, but for those of us that live it we know that there is a price that will be paid in blood.

    Friday, July 30, 2021 Report this

  • Olycoley

    After all the country has been through there is a huge demand for legislative action and a call for change. I can certainly understand how the police departments can feel they didn’t have enough say in the drafting of these laws. This is probably indicative of the current lack of trust many people have with the police.

    The problem I see is that it’s not law that’s preventing the police from responding. As you so accurately pointed out, it’s the POLICY (your emphasis) that is in the way of public safety. It’s clear from the way HB 1310 is written that the intent was not about preventing the police from responding in Community Care, or any other situations. The law was written specifically about the unnecessary use of force by police, and that is a genuine problem. This specific direction for implementation has not been developed by the legislature that drafted the bill nor local elected representatives, and that is where the conflict lies. These policies need to be created in conjunction with our elected officials, especially since the municipal budgets will need to be adjusted for any changes in the way we organize our public safety system. Similarly the applicable direction that describes how this law will be enacted and implemented needs to be specific about the intent so there is no interruption of service.

    I looked at the facebook page you referenced but what I see is an example of why the direction to officers and 911 needs to be clear, especially with regards to intent. The post shows how individual jurisdictions are misinterpreting the law and what it actually means. Now we have a situation where an errant message is being given to officers that they can’t respond, they will act accordingly, and that, if anything, will be what causes a decrease in public safety. The public will be better served if the police work cooperatively with their local officials to develop a comprehensive system to apply these laws rather than to take an uncooperative and misguided position that they won’t respond.

    Saturday, July 31, 2021 Report this

  • JW

    I believe you are unfairly blaming the police agencies saying they need to figure out how to work with the officials when the politicians initiated this change with a distinct lack of cooperation, consultation, or deep forethought. It's a case of they have to pass the bill to figure out how to make it work. It's utterly irresponsible to not have considered the need to beef up alternative responders before passing these bills.

    It's not the police agencies themselves making these decisions---it's the city/county/municipal legal departments. They gave the bills to the lawyers and said interpret this so we know what to do and the lawyers came back with what we have before us now. Out of the legal departments comes the basis for the policies.

    We clearly disagree on the benefit of these bills, but I think we can both agree that we are now in a state of flux---caught between how we used to handle emergencies pre-implementation and whatever final product of alternative responders we'll have in the future. How long we live in this state of flux is anyone's guess, and I don't have much confidence in the leadership in this state to figure it out anytime soon. Meanwhile responders and citizens will go without help and be at increased risk of injury and death.

    Saturday, July 31, 2021 Report this

  • Olycoley

    I appreciate your perspective and willingness to discuss what is occurring. Seems where we disagree most significantly is the critical point that the decision not to respond is coming from those police departments choosing not to respond, not from the law, not from the legislature. Seattle among other cities as well as the legislature all say the police departments choosing not to respond to calls are incorrect. Even Washington Fraternal Order of Police President Marco Monteblanco was critical of how police departments have responded.

    I absolutely agree that there is work to be done to develop a better public safety system due to this legislation. But after reading the bill, talking to the police chief, seeing what other jurisdictions are doing, and understanding the legislature’s intent, what I see are police departments overreacting in a manner I find sadly disingenuous and at times vindictive. That helps no one and does not send a message of cooperation, concern for public safety, nor understanding the problems generating these laws. I believe the police can do better than that, and am confident that they can work more positively and directly with their community to implement the new laws.

    Please feel free to email me directly (address above) to discuss this more.

    Sunday, August 1, 2021 Report this